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March 16th, 2011 JONATHAN CROWL | Sports
 

Splitting Timbers

The Timbers’ new season in a new league will mean bigger revenues and salaries—but at a cost.

news4-timbers_3719INAUGURATION DAY: Two years ago, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced Portland would get a franchise in 2011. The time has finally arrived for regular-season play to begin. - IMAGE: Darryl James
The Portland Timbers’ inaugural season in Major League Soccer kicks off this Saturday, March 19, at Colorado. 

Before that happens, here’s a guide for casual fans to some of the big differences marking the move of the franchise from its 10-year stint in the lower-level United Soccer Leagues to MLS.


NEW FACES: Fourteen of the Timbers’ 24 roster players were not associated with the club last season. Nine of those new acquisitions come from other MLS teams through an expansion draft. 

One new player to focus on is midfielder/forward Darlington Nagbe, a 20-year-old Liberia native and the Timbers’ first MLS draft pick. He was the top college player last season and led the University of Akron to a national championship.


HIGHER COST OF WINNING: USL players normally earned base salaries of less than $20,000. Salaries will be much higher for Timbers players in the MLS, which requires a base salary of $42,000 for roster members. 

If Timbers go out on the town with Trail Blazers, the cagers should still pick up the tab, given that the NBA’s minimum salary this season is nearly $475,000. 

Midfielder Jack Jewsbury, a recent aquisition from Sporting Kansas City and the Timbers’ new captain, will earn a base salary of $145,000. That’s about on par with the average MLS salary of $138,000 last season.


IT TAKES MONEY TO MAKE MONEY: MLS can’t match the contracts offered by overseas clubs and leagues.

But the U.S. league has carved out a niche as an attractive destination for aging stars like 35-year-old Englishman David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy) and France’s 33-year-old Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls). 

These stars command multimillion-dollar salaries but also increase the domestic and worldwide exposure of the league, opening up sponsorship opportunities and increased revenue. 

The Timbers don’t have such internationally regarded names. But Nagbe is the son of Liberia’s former national team captain and is considered one of the United States’ top young talents. 

Also, defender Kerrea Gilbert spent five seasons with Arsenal FC in the English Premier League and played for England’s U-17 national team. 

Bringing in top-level talent has helped improve MLS’s profile: In 2010, MLS signed a 10-year, $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas. All league earnings are divided equally among its 18 teams.


TIMBERS FANS WILL HAVE MORE COMPANY: Last year’s Timbers had a season-ticket base of 3,000. The figure this year is four times that. 

The $31 million renovation of PGE Park—whose name will change to Jeld-Wen Field because the Southern Oregon window- and door-maker will pay for stadium naming rights—will increase seating capacity from just over 16,000 to about 19,000 when it hosts its first MLS game April 14 against Chicago. 

The revamped stadium will also retain Timbers Army seating. 

Changes may be coming outside the stadium as well. On Wednesday, March 16, the Portland City Council will consider a proposal to extend area parking-meter hours on game nights from 7 to 10 pm and increase rates for 441 parking spaces during those hours from $1.60 to $3.50. 


THE EVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: In addition to leaguewide television contracts, the Timbers have also reached an agreement with Root Sports, the successor to Fox Sports Northwest, to broadcast 16 of the Timbers’ 34 games this season. 

This deal combines with broadcast agreements made with FOX 12, ESPN and others to ensure every regular-season Timbers game will be televised in the Portland area. 

Only 12 Timbers games were televised last season, although the USL streamed all matches on the league’s website. 

 
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